The basic French Pharmacy beauty product shopping list

It’s no secret that I have a French love affair. They really know how to have the perfect balance between function, strategy, effect and value in cosmetic products. A bit of background: I know a lot about skincare and cosmetics because unbeknownst to me, my lifetime career started by selling perfume and cosmetics as a teenager. I love that world and really thought I would become a linguist or a writer – everyone else did, too. Of course I did actually become a writer, but very much as a twin to my perfume and beauty career. You may have noticed I write about fragrance and beauty a lot.

So I’ve spent most of my life trying out products, testing them, selling them – later, training other people on them; writing training manuals and product copy – and finally developing them and fragrances for them. Which means that when I test a new product which I still love to do even though I’ve found my Holy Grail for almost every category – I think cosmetics are fun – I am a harsh reviewer. I won’t easily get seduced by pure marketing; I need the product to deliver on its potentials, I need it to feel like good value for money either because it’s so damn deluxe that it feels therapeutic just because of its “I’m-treating-myself-shush-now” value, or because the effect vs. its cost is just right.

What the French pharmacies offer me is a treasure. Swiss aren’t bad either – I love many Swiss products with almost identical passion, but nowhere do I feel more like a kid in a candy store than at a good French pharmacy.

There is always an open pharmacy, which the French call as a pharmacy de garde, which is open 24 hours per day and I really love visiting it at night after a long day at work.

The cult destination is, of course Citypharma in Paris (one can catch the Metro there very conveniently direct from Eurostar, but be warned – it’s better to drop your baggage off first because Citypharma is not a cult destination in name only; it is so in fact, which means it is packed to the edge with customers and you will struggle to move among the aisles even without bags to drag around with you. Make sure to wear comfortable outfit, have a list ready and be prepared to queue).

Happily, almost every product I would normally have to hunt down from various sellers or haul over in person from Paris is now accessibly available online. I say almost every, because some of the best-kept secrets haven’t yet made it over, and one of them can’t because it’s classed as a pharmaceutical.

When I first discovered that in the UK has a ‘French Pharmacy Month’ every now and then, I was doubtful – but it turns out they have made a great collection of products and during this periodic promo, sell them at 1/3 off retail price, making them cheaper than buying them in person from France (not taking your travel costs into account – I’m assuming that most people would go to France on holiday or to work and not to specially to stock up on beauty products. But I know a few people who’d probably do the last without batting an eyelid. I included).

Anti-ageing products

Now, I have been told by a few people that I look younger than my age and that’s mostly due to lucky genes, lack of drinking & smoking and a life of hiding from the sun. However, I also know what to look for in an anti-ageing product. Sunscreen is the most anti-ageing product you can buy, so find a good one you can wear every day and increase the SPF during summer. Don’t forget to monitor your vitamin D levels.

Glow and moisture

Vichy is a real winner here– they have several products which are real heroes in their category. My favourite is probably Vichy Lifactiv serum 10 supreme – it contains high amounts of the humectant component hyaluronic acid and if you use it under a good moisturizer, it will plump up your skin and keep it really well hydrated. Don’t use hyaluronic acid products on their own in dry atmospheres because the element is so good at finding and holding on to moisture that it might end up sucking the moisture out of your skin if it can’t find it somewhere else.

Happily Vichy is also a good brand for moisturizers – and their Vichy Aqualia Thermal moisturizer for normal & mixture skin is my go-to cream when my skin is feeling dry. It has a light, fresh trace; it absorbs perfectly, and doesn’t leave the skin feeling greasy. They also do a version for dry skin, which is richer for those who need it.

Vichy idealiaVichy Idealia range is wonderful for when you’re looking a little sallow, or just want to have glowing skin that gets people telling you that you’re Dorian Gray’s sister. I wear the serum and the cream on days when I know I’ll be on camera or on days where I’ve not had enough sleep – it’s a little glowing secret which I guess is now not so secret any more even for dentists ( Geoallo ).

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré is a cult product for a good reason – it is a fantastic all-round moisturizer; really hydrates, has a light floral scent and doesn’t irritate skin. It works beautifully on its own, over serums, or under SPF and make-up. When I worked as a make-up artist, it was significant to have products in your kit that would be as universally suitable and safe as possible – this fits the bill. It is a pleasure to use, too, and treats skin gently but effectively.

Nuxe products are pretty legendary and for a good reason – they are a sensory pleasure to use and do what they claim. My new favorite is the Nuxe Rêve de Miel Hand & Nail Cream which has a gorgeous lightly honeyed, slightly floral scent.I am also a fan of the Nuxe face masks – especially the Nuxe Crème Fraiche de Beaute Masque which is my favorite emergency moisture treatment to date.

Many skin problems are due to disturbances in our skin’s natural barrier action (we have a protective layer of friendly micro flora and sebum which can get disrupted when too many harsh products are used, when ill and so on).If your skin is dry, irritated and you needs an SPF product for the day, try the sunscreen version of La Roche Posay B5 balm – a rich, protective layer to help your skin rebuild and protect you from the sun at the same time.